I entered Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with some trepidation — some years ago, SEGA’s fantastic Mario sound arrangements within Wii’s Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games inspired me to pick up my very own copy, yet I quickly discovered SEGA’s music magic were an uneven mismatch with the game’s stiff controls and awkward animation. An instant turn-off given the valued pedigree of the involved licenses, it was after recognizing I derived more engagement from Wii Fit‘s snowboard balancing acts that Olympic Winter Games found itself shelved; consequently, any and all subsequent entries were met with apathetic side-eying on my end, partaking only in YouTube OST uploads as I giggled at whatever memes arose of Sonic’s equestrian adventures. (Actually, just the mere visual of Sonic riding a horse still makes me chuckle — a metaphor for the Blue Blur’s momentary rise-and-fall in the 2010’s, perhaps?)
With my game journalist privileges ending up with Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on my lap, one may say the joke’s now on me, but I don’t particularly mind — ten years is a long time, after all, and even if we factor in SEGA’s mismanagement of their beloved hedgehog, surely they’d endeavor to carefully tinker with a Mario crossover under Nintendo’s watchful eye? Indeed, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a well-balanced offering of fan-service and satisfactory gameplay, host to warm-ups (the 100m Dash — a ten-second button mash barrage), endurance tests (Sport Climbing, wherein competitors carefully gauge their stamina wheel) collaborative events (Football — or Soccer, for us North Americans — dividing eight players into two groups of four), and even a Story Mode operating upon a Saturday Morning Cartoon narrative.
Eat your heart out, Smash Bros.!
The key to enjoying Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is recognizing they don’t represent the innate physicality of the source material; indeed, despite all the running and jumping within the 34 mini-games, much of the action’s distilled into timed button presses. This is fine — barring maybe the retro 1964 events, there’s an appropriate symmetry of pick-up-and-play time-wasters to flashy, vigorous festivities demanding knowledge of every input. Naturally, I found myself inclined towards the flexibility of Boxing and Dream Karate — the latter’s Super Mario Odyssey-inspired chaos being a personal favorite — yet the timed trickiness of 4 x 100m Relay and Triple Jump were no pushovers. With each of the twenty characters excelling in different specialties, I eagerly heed the game’s beckoning for experimentation. (That said, while the games are obviously skewed towards youngsters, I do wonder what mileage especially younger players derive from the series — my six-year-old nephew, a Mario/Sonic-crazed munchkin, found himself obstructed by the deluge of button prompts.)
Much attention’s been directed towards the Tokyo 1964 Events, which literally retrofits beloved Mario and Sonic icons into their former 8-bit/16-bit glory. Do take note that these Olympic matches operate on a smaller-scale — only eight characters compete (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Dr. Eggman), and just ten events are available; furthermore, with most of these retro games being bite-sized feats, players may find themselves yearning for meatier events in the vein of Marathon and Volleyball. The nostalgic chiptunes and familiar arcade voice-overs may be loving homages, and I’m not about to deny myself the sight of 16-bit Eggman kayaking furiously down the Sega Genesis river, but I suspect the 2020 events will garner most of my playtime.
Insert lazy “lol why isn’t sonic in first” joke here.
Still, given their imperative role in the Story Mode, it’d be hasty to dismiss these 2D efforts as a waste. As I understand it, this isn’t the first time the series presented contextual narrative (I distinctly recall observing videos of similar misadventures in the DS version of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games), but I believe it’s a first for the series’ home console efforts. Rather than ambitiously capitalizing upon an HD outing, however, Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 instead sticks to its off-the-wall guns and opts for a storyline where Mario, Sonic, Bowser, and Dr. Eggman get sucked into a gaming device hosting the 1964 Olympics. As Luigi and Tails race around modern-day Tokyo in figuring out a solution, Mario and Sonic have no choice but to compete against their arch-enemies if they hope to escape. Fun comic banter, unique mini-games, and dream match-ups ensure an adventure that never, ever takes itself seriously. (Seriously, if you’re not up to date on your Sonic lore, there’ll be some cameos that’ll have you going, “Huh?”)
There exist other features keeping aspiring athletes busy — in-game achievements reward ambitious completionists, and online multiplayer is (finally!) featured for the first time, but being that we’re a month away from launch, I couldn’t locate any opponents. (Fortunately, Nintendo World Report‘s Brett Posner-Ferdman had better luck than I — according to him, it runs buttery-smooth!) Meanwhile, I’ve sadly yet to encounter more than one of SEGA’s famed Mario remixes. I understand this may have to do with this game’s de-emphasis on Dream Events — special contests hosting locales from days of Mario and Sonic yore — but further play may yield some further music goodness. (I’ll get back to you on that in my review, promise.)
Don’t look into the light!
With Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 launching in America on November 5th, time will tell if it’ll induct itself into my regular rotation of multiplayer Switch sessions. Even if I grow bored, I choose to appreciate the little things; namely, that I beat up Amy Rose as Bowser Jr. in a boxing match. Really, can that happen anywhere else?